Starting meetings with three simple questions can help you control even the most difficult of participants.
Meetings are unavoidable. Team meetings, planning meetings, feedback meetings, one-on-ones, reviews, retrospectives, stand-ups, town-halls. For many of us, meetings take up a large part of our day. And yet, most of them suck.
We can all relate to that feeling you get when the people that most need to pay attention are on their mobile phones. Or when a teammate is so passionate about the details that they’re impossible to interrupt. Or when you ask a question and get an uncomfortable silence in response. And that realisation that you’ve gone totally off-topic and run out of time.
Intervening often feels awkward, like a teacher struggling to maintain order in the classroom — ‘Come on now, children, behave!’ I was resigned to the fact that crappy meetings are just a fact of life. That is, until I learned three simple questions that make meetings far easier to control.
‘Designing the alliance’ is a coaching technique that establishes ground rules upfront to keep everyone on the same page. What’s the twist? Well, rather than state ‘how it’s gonna be’, you ask questions instead:
Questions are far more engaging, thought-provoking and empowering than instructions. They transfer responsibility from you to the group. And taking two minutes to ask these questions at the start of your meetings can radically improve their outcomes.
Which behaviours do you want to see more (or less) of in your meetings? By framing them as commitments and bringing them up as suggestions, the team is able to agree (or not) to them. Examples of commitments are:
If the team come up with lots of ideas for commitments, I recommend prioritising the top three.
You might doubt whether this question is necessary. Why should you ask for permission? Won’t it undermine your leadership?
Asking for permission has a powerful impact on people. It demonstrates that the team has the power to say ‘no’, and it provides accountability for the commitments, which gives the team a sense of ownership.
Examples of permissions that you might ask for:
Your goal is to agree on the specific actions you’ll take to hold people to their commitments. By setting this expectation up-front, it becomes easier to follow through. For example, here are a few different ways to interrupt someone:
By coming up with the protocol as a group, the team are managing themselves. Everybody is clear on what to look out for and how to behave.
Do you need more input from your investors during your board meetings? Do you need to keep your management teams on-topic? How about improving your one-on-ones with difficult employees?
Asking for commitments and permissions allows you to set early expectations, and to get the most out of your meetings. And, hopefully, it’ll make them a little more bearable.
Thoughtful essays on growing teams, building products and raising money by Serial Entrepreneur and Investor, David Bailey.